Longer Participation in WIC Is Associated With Better Diet Quality in 24-Month-Old Children

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2020 Jun;120(6):963-971. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2019.12.012. Epub 2020 Feb 14.


Background: Little is known about duration of exposure to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in relation to children's diet quality.

Objective: The objective of the study was to examine the association between duration of WIC participation and diet quality of 24-month-old children.

Design: A national longitudinal observational study was conducted with participants initially enrolled in WIC in 2013. Telephone interviews were conducted with study mothers from 2013 to 2016. Duration of WIC participation was categorized as high, medium, or low based on the number of interviews during which participants reported receiving WIC benefits.

Participants: Participants in the WIC Infant and Toddler Feeding Practices Study 2 who had completed a baseline interview and all interviews through 24 months were included; participants who reported discontinuing WIC due to perceived program ineligibility were excluded from analyses (N=1,250). Data were weighted to represent the study-eligible population.

Main outcome measure: Healthy Eating Index 2015 scores of children at age 24 months were calculated based on 24-hour dietary recalls.

Statistical analyses performed: Unadjusted analysis of variance examined Healthy Eating Index 2015 scores by WIC participation duration. Multivariate linear regression analysis tested independent effects of WIC duration on Healthy Eating Index 2015 total scores, controlling for sociodemographic factors.

Results: After controlling for covariates, WIC participation duration was significantly associated with diet quality. Children in the high duration group had significantly higher Healthy Eating Index 2015 total scores (adjusted mean 59.3, 95% CI 58.6 to 60.1) than children in the low duration group (adjusted mean 55.3, 95% CI 51.6 to 59.0) (P=0.035).

Conclusions: Children who received WIC benefits during most of the first 2 years of life had better diet quality at age 24 months than children who, despite remaining eligible for benefits, discontinued WIC benefits during infancy. Findings suggest nutritional benefits for eligible children who stay in the program longer.

Keywords: Diet quality; Healthy Eating Index 2015; Program retention; WIC.